I only have a surface-skimming knowledge of country music, but it’s pretty obvious what’s great about it: songs about grown-up situations and emotions, with clear, well-turned lyrics, whose singers often have gorgeous, expressive voices – what’s to dislike? But stereotypes stick to the genre – particularly at an ocean’s distance: sentiment, traditionalism, religiosity, a willingness to be trite or didactic. These are big hurdles for a lot of listeners, though none of them is as true, as often as the people who utterly dismiss country might imagine. None of them are even a deal-breaker for me – something I like about country is that I can disagree with what’s in a song at the same time as I enjoy it.
Country is a near-total absence from British charts now: in the 1970s, though, there was a clear market for it and the big hits did extremely well – especially if, as in this case, they had year to build up demand before an eventual release. I didn’t know, coming to write this entry, that “Stand By Your Man” wasn’t a 1975 hit, and knowing that Wynette and George Jones divorced in the mid-70s I’d heard bitterness in its tears, and its lyrics that essentially present men as helpless, defective children. My Dad, who loves the song, used to chuckle over Wynette’s multiple real-life marriages, understanding that the pleasure in country lies partly in how it briefly, artfully paints a life and situation in a few minutes. Whether the singer lived the song didn’t seem to be the point.
I may enjoy country but ultimately I don’t share its sensibilities: the lachrymose wobbles and almost-cracks in the vocal do feel over-the-top to me, and the record can’t quite win freshness back from crushing over-familiarity. But the sardonic, wounded intensity of Wynette’s performance is a keeper whether it’s your first time hearing it or your thousandth.